The Dangers of “DIY” Estate Planning

We get the question all the time, what about these online “do it yourself” estate planning websites? Seems enticing right? Our answer is always simple…they breed mistakes! These generic online documents are designed for a “one-size-fits-all” scenario, however, we all know every situation is unique. We recently came across an example of a gentleman in Pennsylvania, for privacy reasons let’s call him John, who tried to create his own will using a form from the internet and here’s yet another example of how people who try to create their own wills, often screw it up and they may never know but their family certainly will.

“John” of Pennsylvania wanted his estate to go to two of his five children. He wrote a “do-it-yourself” will in which he left his pickup truck to his daughter and his summer home to his son. He also stated that he was intentionally leaving his other three children out of the will.

The problem? The will never specifically stated what would happen to the rest of his property other than the truck and the summer home. While “John” presumably wanted it to be divided between this son and daughter, he never spelled this out.

The rest of the property was worth $217,000, and the children all went to court to argue about it. A judge eventually ruled that under Pennsylvania law, the $217,000 had to be divided equally among all five children – even though “John” had deliberately tried to cut the other three children out of the will.

If ‘John” had consulted an attorney about his estate plan, he’d have gotten the result he wanted, and he would also have spent far less than his children ended up spending trying (and failing) to untangle his mistakes.

They may seem like an enticing offer but there are important aspects missing that you would otherwise get when you establish a relationship with a Bratton Scott estate planning attorney such as, current knowledge of estate planning laws, customization based your goals, and back and forth conversation with your attorney listening and offering advice.